Beauty and the Beast, Toxic Masculinity and Fake Feminism

Politics Features Beauty And The Beast
Beauty and the Beast, Toxic Masculinity and Fake Feminism

Apparently Disney’s got some serious issues with men. In case you haven’t heard, they’re about to release a live action version of the most fucked up story they’ve ever told. I’m talking, of course, about Beauty and the Beast. Or as I like to call it, Seriously Codependent Woman and the Scary Dog Man Who Throws Furniture at Her.

With the exception of their more recent flicks like Moana, Disney’s always been pretty terrible at writing women, fetishizing these doe-eyed barely-legals with bodies more fragile than a baby bird’s and absolutely nothing better to do with their lives than chase after rich white idiots who seem a little dead inside. But after going back and watching the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast again, I realized just how terrible they seem to think men are.

I know Disney’s always lauded this film as a romantic tale about not judging books by their covers and love conquering all, blah blah blah, but I’m not buying it. This movie terrifies me.

Like a lot of women, I know this story all too well. I’ve been Belle, only a tomboy version of her, dating my own Beast, though he never took me prisoner in a ginormous castle with an inexplicable collection of ballroom gowns or a gang of inanimate object slaves. But close enough.

Either way, trust me when I tell ya, this ain’t gonna end well for Belle.

Dog man is totally gonna kill that girl.

Or at the very least, scare her into staying with his sorry ass for all of eternity.

Sorry to ruin it for anyone, but what we’ve really got on our hands here is yet another reincarnated version of that old patriarchal myth about men just needing the right woman (preferably a hot, pushover type) to change them. Make them behave. “Train” them like the dogs society tells them they are.

That’s so fucked up, you guys!

For everyone. Most of the men I know are awesome and don’t need women to change them. And stories like this only serve to reinforce that silly idea that women are better than men and, therefore, should bear the burden of saving men from themselves. And even though this is an impossible task and not our job, the terrible behavior of—some—men is still somehow our fault because we can’t actually stop it.

So no, this movie isn’t progressive at all. It’s just another outdated Disney flick that needs to be retired.

But… but… it stars feminist hero, Emma Watson!

I know. I love our girl, Emma (and totally side with her over this recent cleavage slut-shaming bull donkey), but homegirl’s got Belle all wrong. I keep seeing interviews of Emma gushing over this “strong” character she plays. Bitch, please. Belle’s just another Disney embroidered doormat who puts up with endless bullshit from a man who throws a table at her. Emma also bragged about how modern this remake is because Belle not only likes to read (WOW!!!) but she’s an “inventor” this time around.

You read that right.

After twenty-six years of feminism and broken glass ceilings, the only big change they claim to have made to Belle’s storyline is her inventing a goddamn washing machine. C’mon!

Okay, fine. But Disney introduces their first gay man in this movie! So Progressive!

Ha! Disney reeeeeally shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back for finally acknowledging that gay folks exist after decades of excluding them entirely from their films. Especially if they’re gonna make the first one play that fucking idiot, Le Fou (which literally means “the fool” in French), who’s basically just the little bitch of Gaston, a toxically masculine narcissist that bullies him.

Before I continue, full disclosure here—I love Disney. I get goosebumps just thinking about the Magic Kingdom and how it made me feel as a kid when my mom would drive me and my sister 28 hours round trip every summer to hug Mickey in person. Decades later, I still know every single word of every single song from The Little Mermaid because I will always love that movie, despite the fact it’s about a smart woman winning over a man by batting her freakishly oversized eyes and shutting the fuck up.

But now that I’m an aunt, I see all of this garbage through the impressionable eyes of my four-year-old niece and I’m super conflicted. So is my feminist sister, who’s trying to raise a strong, confident girl in a culture ruled by The Princess Empire. No matter what you do, it seems as though almost every girl has to drink the Disney Princess Kool-Aid at some point. So, just like all her friends, my niece worships these cartoon women already.

So, yes, who these princess are and what they do is unbelievably important.

If you don’t have a girl under the age of 12 in your life, you may not be aware of just how fucked up Disney Princess culture has become. When I was a kid, these tiaras and glass slippers weren’t a part of everyday life. Of course, Disney hadn’t yet created their bazillion dollar princess industry yet either. Back then, the rides and shows at Disney weren’t about princesses. Little girls didn’t dress like royalty on a regular basis. And Disney employees weren’t ordered to call every single female without childbearing hips “princess.”

Seriously, they do that now and it’s gross.

You know what they call the boys? Prince or pirate. (Yeah, they get options!) Either way, it’s pretty crazy if you really think about what pirates historically have been—drunks and thieves who sell women into the sex slave industry. There’s even a scene of them doing this in Disney’s fucking pirate ride!

I know, I know. I love talking like a pirate and making stupid jokes with an arrrrrrg punchline too, but still. Every little girl walking around Disney is addressed by employees as if she’s a spoiled rich brat waiting to be married off by daddy. And every little boy is addressed as if he’s a violent criminal/sex offender.

So it’s not just the women. Disney’s got themselves a serious male representation problem. Every single dude in Beauty and the Beast sucks. All of them want to either own Belle, imprison her, need her to save them, or somehow use her for their own personal gain.

And here I thought Disney hated women!

I kid you not, they even made her poor dad suck. He’s a sad, lonely old man who practically keeps Belle prisoner by being so goddamned needy and lonely, even treating her like she’s his surrogate wife (cuz Disney is obsessed with having at least one dead parent in every single princess storyline). Belle’s opening song in the movie is about how much she hates this goddamn town and how books are what keep her sane (books about marrying a prince, of course).

When she finishes her little number, she goes home to a dad who makes her feel stupid for not wanting to date the worst man in town (“but he’s handsome, Belle!”). And then, to prove just how shitty of a father he is, he lets her change places with him as the Beast’s prisoner. Isn’t a dad’s number one job to protect his kids? So wtf, dude? What kind of man would choose to go free in exchange for letting his only daughter, who has a full life ahead of her, become a sex slave to a violent dog man?

Well, guess what?! This ends up being a major theme throughout our story—this idea that pretty women should put men first, forfeiting their own needs and desires and even physical safety in order to save men from themselves and each other.

Fifteen minutes in and I’m already exhausted for Belle.

Before the Beast even enters the picture, we meet the guy Belle’s dad wants her to date, Gaston, who is basically Brock Turner on steroids, but in old timey clothes. In his first interaction with Belle, he makes fun of her dad, criticizes her for reading, and actually steals her book. He even admits he only wants Belle cuz she’s the hottest girl in town. Seriously, the only thing Gaston does in this whole goddamn movie is stalk Belle like prey, probably in hopes of killing her spirit like all the trophy animals he’s beheaded and nailed to his wall. He just won’t leave this poor girl alone, trying to trick or trap her into marrying him so she can become his housekeeper, baby mama and cumptruck. He even admits this—using kid friendly language of course!

If this was real life, Gaston would have totally date raped her by now.

We then spend the rest of the movie watching our heroine undergo Stockholm Syndrome, falling in love with the sociopath holding her captive. We’re supposed to feel sorry for this entitled, spoiled Beast because life’s not fair for him. Poor little rich boy was put under a curse one day when a bored hot lady with magical powers stopped by his castle just to fuck with him (since women are always trying to find a way to either change men or ruin their lives). But the dumb Beast was a total jerk to this random witch lady, so she made him ugly and now he’s aaaaaall alone in a Kardashian style castle, being served by a gang of codependent, inanimate objects who tiptoe around his rage and make excuses for his cruelty. But, surprise, surprise, there is one thing that can save him—a woman loving him!

Cue beautiful savior. One that’s waaay out of his league, like every Judd Apatow movie.

Things don’t go well at first. The Beast is just so mad that Belle is being “difficult.” How dare she not want to eat dinner with him only two hours after realizing she’s basically a mail order prison bride and will never see her friends or family again. “It’s dinner with me,” he screams at her in the scariest voice ever, “OR NO DINNER AT ALL!” That’s after he’s already picked her up by his claws, threatened her, and yelled at her a few times.

For a hot second, Belle cheers up when the Beast’s talking furniture people gaslight her with a song and dance about how she’s actually “their guest” and should be totally stoked to be here. But later, when Belle dares to wander into the Beast’s man cave, he finds her, scares the shit out of her once again, and even throws a table at her.

So she runs out the door to go home.

Well, that was easy!

So now you think maybe she’s an idiot, right? Why didn’t you do that before, dummy? Ohhhh. Because Belle’s actually a volunteer prisoner. Seriously, she’s that codependent! Screw her personal safety and happiness! It’s far more important that she keep her promise to live with this unreasonable psychopath for eternity because that’s the deal he struck with her pops and, gosh-darnit, keeping your word is the right thing to do.

Whyyyyyyyy is this movie considered a romance?!

It gets worse though.

The Beast runs out into the snow to save our damsel in distress from a pack of wolves (real wolves, not man wolves) she’s encountered. But in “saving” her, the Beast gets a few boo-boos and now Belle feels all bad for him. So instead of going home, she hoists this giant dog man onto a horse, takes him to his bed (in her prison!), and goes all Florence Nightingale on his ass. When he wakes up, instead of apologizing, he blames her for his injuries cuz she’s the one who ran away. “But you lost your temper!” she argues.

UGH. Doesn’t she get it?! He only threw that table because she MADE him lose his temper.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Yeah, that’s literally what my ex said to me after he threw a chair at me. And a TV. And all the other stuff. And when he tried to bite my fingers off. Because that’s the kind of shit abusive men say all the time and, like most of us, Belle gave into this insane logic.

Guess what? The next time we see these two together, they’re frolicking in the snow, in love. She teaches him how to hold birds. And eat with a spoon. And read—who the fuck raised this prince anyway? And then she sings a dramatic song about how she’d never seen “this side” of him before.

Guess what, honey? His “other side” ain’t going nowhere.

But according to Disney, poof, it’s gone now! Belle cured his propensity for violence, lickety-spit. And then the rest of the film is all romance. By the end, even I want Belle to be with this sicko.

What really gets my goat about this movie, though, is the fact that Belle is such a catch. Smart, pretty, kind, brave. And these are her options. Buff Brock Turner or wife beater dogman. What the fuck, Disney?

I think it’s quite telling that Disney made him an actual beast. How fitting for a culture that demonizes men like this. Like they’re some other species. Literal monsters. But here’s the truth. These “beasts” live in our homes. Work with us. Are our friends. They aren’t those boogiemen lurking in back allies that everyone warned us about or hairy dog men hiding in castles in Bumfuck, France. No, they’re men in our community we all know and even care about. We just aren’t aware of what they do to the women they love behind closed doors. And because we don’t talk about it as a society, this epidemic keeps on keeping on. And women keep growing up being brainwashed into thinking these men will change if we can just love them enough.

Well, men like this don’t change.

Not without some serious help at least—a shit ton of therapy, anger management, medication sometimes. And perhaps a little jail time too, for good measure.

Girls like Belle usually need help too. And a lot of supportive women in their lives. If she’d had any female friends (another issue I have with this goddamn movie), they would’ve told her she’s fucking nuts for wanting to be with a man who throws tables at her. But poor Belle’s only got one woman in her life, that old teapot lady, and she’s just another enabler who gaslights Belle. And even encourages this relationship.

God, I literally hate all these characters.

Almost a much as I hate everyone in Fifty Shades of Grey, which this movie is basically the prequel to.

Please, Disney, for the love of God, get your shit together. Stop remaking these garbage movies and passing them off as feminist. We know you’re not gonna chill on the princess crap, but at least you could give us another Moana. I’ll get behind princess culture if you could bestow us with some role models that I’m not terrified to see my niece dress up as.

And give us a good prince, finally. How about a feminist one even? They do exist. I know loads of them.

And if you need help with this, there’s a whole album of young Justin Theroux photos out now that could inspire you.

Melanie Hamlett is a writer, comedian, Moth and Risk! storyteller and public speaker.

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